A fight over rent control has raged for three years in the Silicon Valley suburb of Mountain View with no end in sight. It began in October 2015, when Mountain View City Council members rejected pleas from tenant activists to limit rent increases. Tenant groups responded with a November 2016 ballot initiative to restrict rent hikes, and council members countered by putting a less stringent proposal before voters.
The tenants’ plan passed, and landlords in Mountain View sued to overturn it — the lawsuit failed. Now signature gatherers are once again congregating outside Mountain View supermarkets, this time for a landlord-sponsored rent control initiative to turn the rules in their favor.
“It’s a blur of posterboards,” said Mountain View tenant activist Kristina Pereyra, 49, describing the city’s flurry of activity on rent control.
Similar battles could be coming to the rest of California. In November, voters across the state will decide on Proposition 10, an initiative to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a 1995 state law that keeps local governments from implementing most forms of rent control.
Under the law, cities and counties can’t impose rent control on apartment complexes constructed after 1995. The law also blocks local governments from implementing rent controls on single-family homes and it allows landlords to charge market rate for their apartments after a rent-controlled tenant moves out.
If Proposition 10 passes, those restrictions would disappear. Cities and counties could dramatically expand their efforts to cap rent hikes at a time when millions of California families face high rent burdens and the state grapples with a housing shortage stretching back a generation.
The limited version of rent control that Mountain View voters backed in 2016 is allowed under state law. Both tenants and landlords point to what’s happened as a harbinger of what could be in California’s future.
Tenants reference the thousands of families that have had their rents stabilized while landlords point to owners of older apartment complexes who have sold to developers who in turn force tenants out, tear down the buildings and build new condominiums.
Margaret Abe-Koga, a Mountain View city councilwoman who opposes rent control, said the community is divided.
“It’s almost like you can’t talk about it anymore,” Abe-Koga said. “The anger about this issue — we can’t seem to have a productive conversation.”
With its array of low-rise office parks, Mountain View is hard to distinguish from other communities in Silicon Valley, except that it’s home to Google’s headquarters.